“We have to move,” he says, and with those words, Jason Bourne signals that he is back on the grid.
As excuses for reviving popular Hollywood franchises go, the new Matt Damon movie exists for two reasons: the enduring popularity of the trilogy about the amnesiac Central Intelligence Agency exterminator who uncovers dark government secrets while trying to regain his memory, and the cold reception to the fourth movie that tries to put a new spin on the events.
The Bourne Legacy (2012) stars Jeremy Renner as the CIA operative who escapes being killed by his government in events that run parallel to The Bourne Ultimatum. Despite superb action set-pieces, especially one in Manila, The Bourne Legacy never emerges out from under the shadow cast by the movies starring Damon as the highly skilled and ruthlessly focused CIA assassin who travels continents to find out the truth about his true identity and the black ops programme that he had signed up for. Paul Greengrass brought a breaking-news urgency to the second and third films, The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). Greengrass has teamed up again with Damon and renowned cinematographer Barry Ackroyd for Jason Bourne, a production that doesn’t adequately enhance previous entries but retains the ripped-off-the-headlines quality of its predecessors. (Jason Bourne has been released in advance of its wide release on August 5 exclusively on IMAX screens in India.)
Jason Bourne has been made for a time whose anti-heroes include Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, and it directly addresses privacy concerns of internet users the world over. Last seen swimming his way to safety in The Bourne Ultimatum, the man whose real name is David Webb is lying low and earning his keep from prize fighting bouts. Bourne is coaxed out of hiding by Nikki Parsons (Julia Stiles), who wants to orchestrate a Wikileaks-style expose of the off-the-books CIA programmes that threaten individual privacy and security. A familiar cat-and-mouse game between the eye in the sky and the feet on the ground ensues as the CIA bosses keep real-time tabs on the movements of Bourne and Parsons on the ground during a viscerally filmed protest in Athens even as another sniper (Vincent Cassell) takes aim at the duo.
The ability of the writers (Greengrass and Christopher Rouse) to match the plot to current events gives the predictable endeavour a nervous energy and edge-of-the-seat quality. Barry Ackroyd, who has worked extensively with Ken Loach and Greengrass, creates a contemporary shooting style that captures events from the point of view of the dashcam and the smartphone. The brilliantly shot and edited thrills of the Athens sequence nearly justify the existence of the sequel, which muddles matters by personalising Bourne’s quest and presents his actions as an attempt to find out his father’s involvement in the very programme that sent him into purgatory.
Tommy Lee Jones is in fabulous form as the amoral CIA director who coolly orders mayhem from behind a desk, and he easily eclipses Alicia Vikander as his ambitious cyber ops unit head who, like Joan Allen’s Pamela Landy from the previous films, advocates that Bourne should be persuaded to return home rather than be killed.
The screenplay’s zeitgeist quality continues in Riz Ahmed’s character Aaron Kalloor, a Mark Zuckerberg-inspired social networking entrepreneur whose evocatively named company Deep Dream has been secretly funded by the CIA to conduct surveillance on its users. Although Jason Bourne affects a not entirely convincing immediacy, its expose of covert espionage on the citizenry and state-ordered skulduggery is certainly of the moment.
The Bond-slaying franchise has memorably explored the role of governments in using unethical means to achieve questionable ends, but there is now an aching familiarity to Bourne’s journey into his past. His spectre-like ability to vanish and reappear at will is at odds with the latest movie’s insistence that our every move is being monitored by all-seeing satellites, and his superhuman physical skills clash with the narrative’s documentary realism. Bourne’s goal becomes fuzzier as he moves like a heat-seeking missile towards his target. Is he a patriot or a conscientious dissenter? Is he Rambo or Snowden? At least in its refusal to give pat answers, Jason Bourne earns its place as a worthy successor to the original trilogy, but the suggested sequel is going to have to work harder in giving Jason Bourne, and the undeniably aging Matt Damon, a reason to move yet again.